On making sadness a home

Sadness is pathological. Sometimes, it’s long-drawn, the longest-drawn thing you’ve known. Sometimes, before you know it, sadness becomes your identity the way everyone around you has one: college basketball player, star editor, geek, coffee addict. Sadness creeps up on you slowly — was it only teenage when it took over everything? — over years, invisibly, like nerve gas, and covers you, little by little, until that it creates most of who will forever be: mostly quiet, mostly friendless, slowly decaying.

Sadness sets in earlier in life than you’d think was possible — maybe when you were a preteen, maybe even before that — and colours everything you’ll ever have, every relationship, every opinion, every story you’ll write. It will become you as you find yourself gravitating towards the saddest books, the sorriest movies, as you’re drawn to all the women and children and men on the streets who you’ll believe are ‘better deserving of this life’ than you are. You will cry about them. More often, you will cry for no reason, unable to understand why you’re up shaking in the middle of the night.

But sadness is difficult to understand. “Snap out of it,” you’ll be told by people who’ve never been inside your mind; “Let me help by telling you how lucky you are”, “Why don’t you just see a doctor?”, “Pop some pills.” and the very painful, “Sadness is just an emotion. There are people out there with less than you do and even they find reasons to be okay.”

You will listen to these people and voices because they love you and they mean well. You will follow them blindly into the dark, tugging at the metaphorical string of hope that meanders deeper and deeper into nothingness, because really, sweetness, there’s nothing down that road.

You will stop listening to them, even though they love you.

You’ll begin to doubt if they ever loved you.

Were you really loved at all?

Who would love you, you wonder.

You’ll float along in a haze most days, listening to voices around you, listening to admonitions offered by your own sorry, afflicted mind, wondering how people make it through their days without a single thought of death. You’ll stand on roadsides and subway stations and battle between getting home alive and tossing yourself in the path of relief.

You will make it home yet another day somehow.

But sadness is heavy; it’s been dragging you south for nearly a decade now, infecting all your memories. When you think of school, all you have are the worst records even if you were the star kid. And you’ll know that even then, there were signs — the trail of devastation: a string of broken hearts, a crying mother, a bewildered father, a hurt best friend, empty days and years where crushes and decent grades couldn’t fill what’s now become a gaping hole in you.

So now you know. Sadness is permanent. And you’ll look for ways to turn it into something tangible, just so you have something to make your peace with, something you can fool with distractions — possessions, human, material, travel, reading, pretty pictures. But sadness is kind. It takes pity sometimes and lets up. For a while.

Look at you all better,” people will tell you, “All you needed was a hobby, after all.”

Only, you didn’t. Sadness is an identity. And by now, it’s probably the only one you have. It’s familiar, like a dark room with edges that now feel like home. You know which ones to avoid — jagged ones that leave cuts along your arm, rough, comforting bits that you like running your fingers over to remind yourself of where you are.

Sadness is home. You are here, and you’ll probably never leave. Around you, you will, as always, leave destruction. You’ll abandon people, make terrified choices, have some bad months and some not-so-bad days, you might even go as far as daring to have some good ones, but you always know, because you are you, that you are never going to leave.

On good days, it’ll almost feel like the sadness has left you for good. But if it doesn’t, I’m not going to tell you that it’ll all be better, that all you need is a hobby, or a job, or a change of medication.

Let it do what it does to you. If you’ve made a home in your grief, so be it. Let it change you as it wishes, because one day, you have to stop fighting it.

Because sometimes, the saddest among us are the most capable of knowing pain and dealing with it; sometimes they’re the best lovers, the best writers, the best parents. The ones with the weakest hold on happiness can sometimes cherish it the most. And so you, with your sadness, you, with your unwashed hair and heartaches, you, with your scars and scrapes are as much a part of this world as anyone else.

So when you stare wide-eyed at your sunsets, you might be more grateful for it than most others. When you feel true love, you might know better than to give it up. Sometimes, things will work out, sometimes, they won’t — just as they do with the rest of the world. But disappointment is a familiar friend too, and so you’ll live. Now that sadness is home, you’ll remember that it cannot hurt you anymore. You have very little to fear, not pain, not even death.

It’s been years and years now. You, with your sad eyes and your fear of life, you, with your regular miseries, gently, just stop the fight.

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